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Cleopatra's StoryHappy Cleo

   "Thinking cancels Fear" – Cleopatra’s Story

I graduated as an ABC Certified Dog Trainer in 2009.  But not only did I get my Certification through ABC, I also ended up as a ‘failed foster home’ for a rescue dog because of ABC.

During the ABC Curriculum, we must take a rescue dog through a basic obedience class.  I was introduced to Providing Animals With Safety for Life Foundation (PAWS Rescue) through my amazing practicum mentor. 

Cleo 2009I showed up for my first class early, wanting to take this new acquaintance out for a short walk before I expect her to work for me in a class.  I asked for my rescue dog that I would take through the class, they brought out a beautiful black German Shepherd girl called Cleopatra.  I was thrilled to get a big dog as that is what I am used to & all I’ve had.   We went for a ½ hour walk together and she seemed like a sweet dog.  Then we took the class and she worked fairly well for me, but seemed a bit slow to take treats or learn new things.   I came back the next week early again & we went for our walk & then did the class.  She seemed to be warming up to me a bit but would occasionally lie down right next to the wall & look a bit unhappy.  I could always get her back out working though so I didn’t think anything of it, just put it down to her being a German Shepherd dog (GSD) and they are very loyal and aren’t quick to trust new people.

The third week I did the same routine, but after the class one of the Dogspaw staff mentioned that they were amazed at how she was working with me.  I asked her what she meant and she told me that Cleo tended to “shut down” on most people who tried working with her and she only warmed up to a few of the staff even though she’d been there some time.   I was surprised, as I didn’t see any problems with her.  

The KidsCleopatra was approx. 1 year old when she turned up at the City Pound.  She was terrified of people and the Pound had her scheduled for Euthanasia.  PAWS for Life Foundation works directly with the City Pound and when they have dogs on death row they call Nicole (President of PAWS).  Nicole rescues these dogs for PAWS and that is how Cleo became a PAWS rescue dog.   Cleo had been at PAWS for almost a year, with one failed adoption attempt when a family took her, but then got pregnant & decided they couldn’t have a dog with a baby.  When I heard her story, and was told how surprised people were that she was ok with me, I decided to take her home for a long weekend to give her a break from the boarding facility.

CleoChiliCleo came home after her 4th class with me, and she fit in beautifully.  She was so good around the horses that they didn’t worry about her at all.  She got along with our other GSD, Ringo, although he didn’t really like the idea of sharing his farm.  She came into the house and had perfect manners.   It took 3 months for her to let my husband, Terry, touch her, and then a few more before she fully accepted him.  That was hard for a guy that all animals seem to automatically love, but he understood and gave her the space she needed.  My niece came out with her 4 year old twins and 7 year old boy, and Cleo instantly started following the kids around, letting them chase her & she chased them back being very careful and gentle with the little ones.  I couldn’t believe how quickly she accepted the kids.   I decided then that I would foster Cleo until she found a forever home. 

Icy CleoCleo often came with us when we went for horseback rides in our forest.  One morning before work, Terry decided to go for a ride in our trails, but it was October and still pretty dark.   He got into the trails & heard some yelps and knew someone had gotten in trouble.   When he saw Cleo, even in the low light he could tell she had something in her eye so he high-tailed it home.  They came into the house with Terry yelling “call Doc Barr” but I took one look at her and knew it was going to be a trip to the clinic.   She had somehow gotten 22 porcupine quills just around her eye, with 4 right into the retina.  She only had 2 quills by her mouth, so I assume she must have gotten a tail slap.   PAWS referred me to a wonderful vet, Denise Schlingman of Uncas Vet Clinic, and the quills were removed. Cleo even ended up with sight in her eye, but had lost the beautiful gold color, it turned black.  That’s when the challenges started.

Cleo had been pretty normal around the farm, coming with us everywhere we went, and going for horseback rides and chasing coyotes.   But a few months after her eye healed she started to develop some strange issues.   When it was a bright, sunny day, she would act like she was terrified if she left the safety of the deck for more than a few feet.    It wouldn’t matter if she was on leash or off, she would stop, look up in the sky and run back to the deck and want in the house.   If it was raining, blowing, thunder & lightning, snowing or night time she will go anywhere and even go for runs in the field by herself.  She became deathly afraid of the bright, sunny blue sky but absolutely developed a love for storms.

I tried absolutely every trick in the ABC manual, and everything I had learned from Dogspaw classes to try to get her to come with me for walks or horseback rides. I tried Doggy sunglasses and an eye patch, thinking that she might have pain or see floaters from the quill scars in her eye.   I would take her on a leash, but as soon as I got a few feet away from the house she would be pulling as hard as she could to get back.  I worked with her every day on loose leash walking, taking her a bit further out each time, but she would never improve, even a little bit.  She was so terrified she wouldn’t take even the tastiest treats, she would shake and pull with all her might on the leash and if I just stood still, she would lunge on the leash to try to get to the house.   I stayed calm and quiet and just kept trying different things to distract her, or loose leash walking techniques to try to be able to get her to go for a walk in the woods (which she used to love).  Then I found that if I could get her to the woods, she would relax a bit as we went out, but when we turned around to go home it was brutal to try to hold her so I would wrap the leash around my waist and stop intermittently to see if she would understand, but she never did.Lookin at the sky

One day I was working with Ringo, and refreshing his heal.  I decided I’d try bringing Cleo out to do chores on a snowy winter morning on leash and start teaching her heal.  She wasn’t as afraid because it was snowing (her favorite type of day) and she really did well with the heal command.  I did the same for the next two days (still snowing) and she progressed really well.  Then the sun came back out.  I decided to take her anyways to do chores, and she was back to her terrified self.   Then I said “Cleo Heal” and I could see her stop, think and she started to heal – beautiful!!!   I found the key!!!   I was so excited, but I stayed calm and she healed with me almost all the way to the horse pen.  Then she looked up and freaked out again.  I said “heal” – she stopped, and then started walking beside me in a heal.  She had a good shake, and kept walking beside me.  It worked!   I found a way to get her thinking of something other than her fear!!!!    WOW – maybe I can be a trainer!!!Snow Diver

Cleo Red EyeIt had been almost a year since the porcupine incident, and Cleo had been doing quite well but she still preferred to go out to play at night when she insisted she was invisible. One night she had been out chasing Coyotes with her brother, Ringo, and she came in during the middle of the night when it was dark as if nothing was different. In the morning, her eye was completely red (it had been black after the quill incident) and extremely swollen. At the Vet's recommendation, we waited a few months to see if it would get better, but by December 2011 Cleo had to have her eye removed. It was a terrible experience for her, but she was such a sweet girl through it all, never complaining and tolerating every vet appointment with the utmost dignity. She healed quickly and now you'd never know she had only one eye, she can even catch a cookie if it's thrown properly! Unfortunately loosing the eye didn't change her fear of the bright blue sky. So I still had a challenge on my hands.Comet Walking Cleo

Since then Cleo still has her days.  She still prefers to be inside on sunny days, but if I take her on leash & ask her to heal she will come with me anywhere and no more pulling.  I have had to resort to taking her on leash up to the woods on horseback, then I can let her off leash & she stays with us.  I have to remind her to heal once in a while when she starts to look at the sky, but I certainly learned a good lesson that I will never forget.

It’s all about distraction, redirection and thinking.   If  a dog has to think about something new, or another learned behaviour, they won’t be thinking of their fear.   That will be a useful tool in my training toolbox and in my future career as an ABC Certified Dog Trainer. We're still working on her fear of new people, but with everything she's overcome so far, I have no doubt we'll get there some day.